WASHINGTON — So much for compassionate conservatism.
The Pew Research Center is out with part two of its huge survey of American politics. The first part, released a couple weeks ago, focused on political polarization. For this round, Pew’s researchers have created a political typology which “sorts voters into cohesive groups based on their attitudes and values.”
There’s plenty to say about this, but for now let’s focus on a chart titled “Wide Differences Between Right and Left Over Why Some People Are Poor.” According to the survey, more than three-quarters of conservative Americans — those in the steadfast conservative, business conservative and young outsider typology groups — agree that “poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything.” Only 7 percent of steadfast conservatives say that the poor “have hard lives.”
Even a not-insignificant share of left-leaning groups say that the poor have it easy. But overall the widespread agreements among conservatives on this point is what’s really striking here. There are reasonable, well-intentioned arguments on either side of many poverty-related issues — about the causes of poverty or whether government benefits provide a leg up or simply perpetuate poverty, for instance.
But I have a hard time understanding how you could read about the experience of families relying on food stamps to eat, or those trying to manage chronic conditions with Medicaid, and conclude that these people somehow have it easy. For context, here is a brief but incomplete list of the ways life is “easy” when you’re poor:
— Compared to middle and upper-income Americans, the poor are three times less likely to have health insurance coverage, and more likely to put off or skip necessary medical treatment as a result;
— They are three times more likely to be victimized by crime;
— The daily stresses of living under poverty impose a cognitive burden equivalent to losing 13 IQ points;
— Poor children are three times more likely to be affected by food scarcity and obesity;
— Poor children receive a lower quality education in public school, and the ones who make it to college are more likely to drop out;
— Poorer Americans breathe dirtier air, they sleep less, and the even have less sex;
— And in the end all this “easy living” literally shaves decades off their lives.
The notion that poor people have it easy is at odds with the data.